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Somebody trying to extort money from Harvard used a Craigslist ad to find a patsy to deliver explosives in a threatening package to campus last month, FBI says

Giordani about to deliver package

FBI says image shows Giordani about to deliver package that shut part of Harvard last month.

A man who claims he was only answering a Craigslist ad from somebody seeking to arrange delivery of a package to his son at Harvard was arrested today on federal charges of aiding and abetting an extortion attempt and conspiracy for an incident that shut down part of the Harvard campus last month after police discovered a bag containing a box full of Roman candles, bottle rockets and wires, following a series of threatening extortion phone calls that day.

William Giordani, 54, was ordered held in federal custody in a brief hearing at US District Court today pending a longer detention hearing on Friday. The search for the man who hired him continues.

According to an affidavit by a Harvard University police officer, working with the FBI's Boston-area Joint Terrorism Task Force, Giordani answered a Boston Craigslist ad posted on April 11, allegedly from a man named Nguyen Mihn, with a New Jersey phone number, offering $300 to somebody who could buy and deliver "some item" to his eldest son, a Harvard student.

The ad, still posted this afternoon:

Craigslist ad, allegedly from Vietnamese man, seeking somebody to deliver some items to his son at Harvard

Acting on that man's requests, Giordani, whose address is not listed in court filings, bought fireworks in New Hampshire and then, on April 13, several items, including a sturdy tool bag, a safe and wires at the South Bay Home Depot, all for delivery to Harvard.

Starting shortly before 2:30 p.m. on April 13, Harvard police got a series of seven phone calls, all listing the same New Jersey number as the ad, and using a robotic voice to declare that three bombs had been planted around the Harvard campus and giving instructions for how to contact an alleged ring member - and cautioning Harvard should prepare to pay "a large bitcoin transaction" once it received further instructions.

These devices each have an explosive yield of at least 80 megajoules and contain several pounds of metal shrapnel. If these bombs were detonated now, we estimate that at least 40 students would die and hundreds be badly wounded.

In a call at 3:25 p.m., the voice declared that one of the devices was on the Science Center plaza "between two food trucks in a red and black Husky tool bag."

That was about an hour and 15 minutes, the affidavit continues, after Giordani was videoed by a Harvard Webcam walking onto the plaza with a red and black Husky tool bag.

The individual walks to the center of the plaza and sits down on a bench and places the red and black tool bag on the bench beside him.

The individual then appears to be looking at something in his hands, consistent with someone looking or texting on a mobile phone, for several minutes. He stands up, leaves the bag in the plaza, and walks toward the left-edge of the video. He again appears to be looking at something in his hands before disappearing out of view of the camera. He reappears briefly standing at a distance from the bag, and then walks out of view of the camera again. The individual reappears and sits down next to the red and black tool bag on the bench again appearing to look at something in his hands. At approximately 14:19 the individual stands up and walks way from the red and black tool bag and appears to take a phone call. He walks in between the two food trucks parked on the plaza. He briefly reappears behind one of the food trucks before leaving the plaza.

At 3:40 p.m., police arrived, found the bag, shut the plaza, evacuated nearby buildings and issued a campus-wide alert. The Cambridge bomb squad was requested and used a robot device, which "executed a controlled destruction" of the bag, the affidavit states, adding that afterwards, investigators found "a metal locking safe (similar to what would be found in a hotel room), a package of wire and a quantity of fireworks inside the safe, and a small rectangular box with wires attached to it:"

The remains of the bag:

Package after fire crew blew it up

Markings on the stuff in the bag led investigators to the Home Depot on Allstate Road in Dorchester's South Bay mall, at which "Minh" had called in an order around 6:50 that morning for 250 feet of galvanized wire, a safebox with a digital lock and a 16-pocket tool bag, only the store didn't have the tool bag in stock. Giordani arrived around 11:45 a.m. to pick up the stuff and was given a gift card for the value of the tool bag. He then returned at 12:20 p.m. and used the gift card to buy "a Husky 22 inch spring-loaded tool bag," but that was more expensive than the value on the card, so he used $10 in cash and a one-time housemate's debit card.

Home Depot surveillance image of Giordani at South Bay store:

Giordani with the stuff he allegedly just bought

By April 25, the affidavit continues, investigators had enough evidence to link Giordani to the case that they called him and asked to meet with him. He initially agreed to meet April 27 in Tyngsboro, but he didn't show, claiming he had no proof the person who called was really with the FBI. He then agreed to meet with agents at the FBI office in Bedford, NH - in a call arranged by his mother.

At 10 a.m. yesterday, the affidavit continues, his mother arrived at the office, but said he was reluctant to come because he "was afraid that he would be arrested for transporting fireworks across state lines." Agents convinced her to call him to try to convince him to come in. They listened in as the two talked:

GIORDANI also told DR [his mother] that he spoke to the person who placed the craigslist ad and that person told GIORDANI that he would be calling Harvard Police to make a bomb threat to get money. GIORDANI also stated that at the caller’s direction he then traveled to Worcester to get paid. When GIORDANI arrived in Worcester, the person told GIORDANI that he wasn't able to meet with him, and added that he wasn't Asian (as claimed in the craigslist ad), didn't have kids (as claimed in the ad), and started "spouting off a bunch of racist things about blacks and Jews." GIORDANI reiterated that he was not willing to give up his phone but that he would meet with DR and send screenshots of all of the information that the FBI. GIORDANI asked DR to come pick him up at a specific location in Nashua, New Hampshire.

The affidavit states the agents then drove his mother to Nashua where they approached him and introduced themselves - only to have him begin to yell at his mother.

Officers sought to calm GIORDANI, and then requested to speak with GIORDANI about the craigslist ad and the events at Harvard. They also asked to review the communications on his phone with the craigslist advertiser. GIORDANI refused to give access to his phone or to discuss the incident in detail, claiming that the phone was “his business phone” and that there were also intimate photographs on the device. While declining to show officers his mobile phone, GIORDANI admitted that he knew what he did was wrong and that he "just put some fireworks in a safe and put them at Harvard."

Innocent, etc.

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Comments

He's 54 years old, aware enough to know that maybe he shouldn't let the FBI trample him, and yet he didn't seem to understand that he was being used and that all that stuff he was assembling was kind of suspicious - and some of it was illegal in Massachusetts?

This is more than a simple "pick up this closed heavy package and leave it" situation.

Be interesting to see how this all pans out.

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Lots of people are duped into doing something illegal when they answer a well intentioned Craigslist ad. But not many people continue to play along when they are instructed to make a crude bomb and leave it in a public location.

When someone is down on their luck, $300 is enough to make them put reason aside. But apparently he had access to money via his stolen housemate's debit card.

Hopefully the truth will come out.

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But what doesn't match up is the technical ability to be able to deal with bitcoin (and make it untraceable enough to get away with it) vs. the obvious ridiculousness of a scheme where the guy would have had to have framed himself in advance as a patsy, but just in case he got caught? (I assume there's no doubt that the CL post went up *before* the Harvard incident.) In any case this whole thing seems like good fodder for a law and order episode.

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I don't care how desperate you are, between all the red flags and all the opportunities to walk away (really, right up to the second he left the toolbox), how does anyone go through with this, for $300? And then he talked to the cops without a lawyer? Just defies comprehension.

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and it sounds like this would have been before he placed the bag.

(The rest of the timeline isn't totally clear, but it sounds like the threat was called in almost immediately after the bag was placed.)

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…this sounds more and more fishy more this guy spoke. Why do I feel like this guy set up a Craigslist ad as an alibi, and the ‘business phone’ has evidence of it?

Now yeah, he doesn’t have to turn over his phone without a warrant, but the fact that it seems he willingly paid extra for the bag, said the mysterious customer waited until he was in Worcester to ghost with vague comments… Dude, easiest way to prove it wasn’t you is to show them numbers and messages.

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Doesn't add up.

Anyway, this will make a great podcast some day.

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